If you missed it, we started a book club through our new Ideaction Community. Each month I pick a book with big-picture ideas that we can put into action with event businesses. This month we’re reading Jonah Berger’s Invisible Influence, which is about the simple and subtle ways others’ behavior affects us.
While we started reading it last month for business purposes, I can’t help but filter the information through the Black Lives Matter movement.
Is there such a thing as a non-conformist?
Our current thinking and actions are impacted by others so much more than we care to admit.
If you know me, that’s a hard statement to make. I’m a solid “anti” individual. Tell me something and my first instinct is to doubt it, research it, argue it, and then come up with a new way of seeing it.
It’s who I’ve always been. When I was 10 I got into an argument with my friend over how to spell his name. I swore “Michael” was spelled Micheal. I argued with my 2nd-grade teacher over how to pronounce the word “our” (compared with “are”). And when I was in 5th grade I went to the mats with my teacher over how to spell “college,” even though she had been and I was only 11 years old.
As I got older my desire to do things differently became even more resolved – and accepting of the fact that I wasn't going to win a spelling bee.
College taught me to think and communicate critically. I started looking at the world around me, questioning the way things were done, learning from others outside my own circle, and then trying to reorder it into an approach I felt was more successful.
I did it so much in my 20’s that my first wife, Alejandra, used to (and still does) call me “Avenida Contramano,” which in her family’s Argentine Spanish means “going against the grain for the sake of going against the grain.”
It’s how I learned. Learned where the limits were, what was truly immovable, and what was actually more flexible? What was fact (how to spell “college”) and what was perspective (how to sell weddings)? What was the way everyone did a thing and what was the best way to do it? What part of the system/process/approach could be borrowed and what needed to be improved/modified/or created anew?
Upsides have downsides on the backside
Not accepting what everyone else told me to do as a salesperson is what drove me to explore the science behind how people make decisions. Over the past 15 years it’s pushed me to learn about psychology, economics, persuasion, personality, communication styles, copywriting, and so much more.
But it’s also conditioned me to first see anything that everyone’s doing as a reason not to do it. And that isn’t always a good thing. For one, it can make me appear abrasive or even combative, and that doesn’t always mesh well on teams. For another, my tendency to support Davids instead of Goliaths means I’m usually going against the odds to win, which is pretty exhausting.
Age brings maturity
You’d think a guy who instinctively goes against the majority would support the causes of the minority. And I have. And I do. And I will. My heart and my head know BLM deserves every ounce I can give the movement, but my gut – the same one that tells me to go against the grain – tells me to do it differently than others, to strike out on my own path to the same destination.
Two weeks ago, I posted on IG that we were taking time to learn and reflect. This wasn’t just some token statement I put out to avoid conflict or express a benign sentiment that wouldn’t offend or get out of the hard work involved in introspection. I actually meant it.
Commitment and Consistency
Whenever I dig deep inside myself I go back to what I learn from my mentors, even the ones I’ve never met but have learned a great deal from. Robert Cialdini is a guru of mine, and one of the big principles of influence he articulated through his research on persuasion is called “commitment and consistency.”
Basically, it means that people align their outer actions and behaviors with their inner values and beliefs. An example of this in the sales world is when we get a potential client to commit to a freebie or small purchase in order to interest them in a larger one.
When it comes to BLM you see it with people marching in the streets. They believe in racial justice and equality, so they express it by marching in the street.
But what if you’re the kind of guy who goes the other way?
Last week I wrote about the conflict I felt in how to express my commitment to the BLM movement. It wasn’t that I didn’t support. It was only that I didn’t know how to support it without joining the crowd, which my gut told me would’ve been disingenuous to who I was.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned more than anything else over the past few weeks. It’s not about what I want to do. It’s about what those who’ve been most affected by this need me to do.
I may want to support BLM privately, in my head, in my heart, in my family, in my circle of friends, in 1:1 calls with clients, in my reading list, in my movie queue, in conversations with my kids. I’m going to keep doing all those things, but what’s needed right now is more active, more public, more…just more.
I’m reading another book while I read Berger’s. This one is called Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad. It examines the subtle ways racism plays out in people like me and then asks us to do something about it now that we know.
The book’s Day 4 focus is on White Silence, staying quiet about racist issues. I saw this in myself right away. Even though I support BLM I haven’t been vocal about it. It was something I was doing unconsciously – and probably was using my non-conformist tendencies to explain.
I also realized it was something that I could change. Needed to change. Would change.
Mere exposure effect
This all clicked when I started reading Berger’s, Invisible Influence. The premise of the book is how much we’re all influenced by what others do around us. People learn how to see the world by looking around themselves and paying attention to what others are doing.
One of the biggest ways we decide to believe in something or do something is if we’re exposed to it. The more we see it the more likely we are to be impacted by it. We know it takes 20+ times to see a brand’s name before we might take action on a purchase.
If we overlay this on BLM, we can see that for those who still don’t support racial equality it will take many many many more times to recognize both the damage done through racism and learn the positive impact anti-racism can have on those around you who may not see things the same way as you.
That’s why it’s important to amplify others’ voices on social media. Sure, you may be one of many putting out the same message – and that’s the whole point. People need to see it over and over and over before it will finally sink in.
Whether you fully believe silence = violence, we know for sure that being a vocal ally will make more of an impact than being a passive supporter.
And that’s what the world needs more of…
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